My dear friend, Marty, just gave me the perfect gift. It’s a snuggly-soft cotton T-shirt emblazoned with a perfect quote: “With My Mind on My Tacos, and My Tacos on My Mind.” I wear it proudly, as I stuff myself with street tacos, those lovely, tiny soft corn tortillas topped simply in grilled meat, diced onion, cilantro, salsa and a squeeze of lime.
Fortunately, I live in Sebastopol, and just minutes from the Roseland area of Santa Rosa. The area has long been rich with Mexican restaurants, and the bounty just keeps getting better. The mile-long stretch of Sebastopol Road from Stony Point Road to Dutton Avenue is, in particular, a Mexican food mecca. Longtime favorites here include Pepe’s and La Texanita; newcomers include Del Valle on the west end, and Tacos al Carbon on the east.
Then, there’s the brilliant new Barrio Fresca Cocina Mexicana at the Barlow, which I reviewed on April 6. These street tacos are art, adorned in microgreens and flower petals, atop handmade tortillas infused with flavors like salsa de chile seco.
This spring, Marty and I decided to go on a mission. We vowed to sample every one of the two dozen or so Mexican restaurants and taco trucks around my ’hood. Through the delicious process, we found some exceptional spots worth a drive from across the county.
We also found a few places to pass on —for example, we didn’t feel the love at the very popular Carniceria Contreras on Todd Road west of Stony Point. The taco stand was out of chicken, the order taker told us, though the stand shares its space with a butcher shop stocked with lots of poultry. Then, the tacos we got were meagerly dressed with meat, the quesadilla cheese came out of a Lucerne bag and our to-go order didn’t include any salsa.
Overall, though, it’s hard to go wrong with the Roseland area’s gorgeous Mexican food. If you’re craving casual, authentic, and flavorful, try these standouts:
Delicias Elenitas: This silver metal-clad slice of heaven sits in front of La Fondita, parked permanently with a white tent shading its order counter, tamale steam box (tamales $2) and custom elote station for roasted corn on the cob gussied in toppings like mayo, cotija and finely ground red chile ($3). Owned by the Reyes family since 1996, it’s extraordinarily popular, staying open until 1 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. But brave the lines, for the superb, generously piled street tacos ($1.50) in myriad meats like asada, pastor, carnitas, chicken, chorizo, tripa (beef intestine), cabeza (succulent beef cheek), suadero (chewy beef from above the cow udder), cochinita pibil, or lengua (beef tongue, $2). Tacos are all dressed with cilantro, diced white or red onion depending on the meat, and various salsas. But fair warning — those salsa are fiercely fiery, sizzling lips and searing tongues and making eyes water in happiness. 816 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa, 707-575-7021.
Taqueria California: The quesadillas are beautiful creatures, nearly hubcap in size and fat with cheese and meats alongside chunky guacamole and sour cream ($8.75). The lengthy menu gets fancy, too, with mouthwatering plates like camarones a la diabla served alongside avocado salad, silky cheese-laced refrieds and pitch-perfect Mexican rice ($13.99). Street tacos are pricey at $2.25-$3, but Taco Tuesdays mean pigging out on 99-cent beauties, including complimentary thick, addictive, homemade chips and unlimited visits to the salsa bar with its pico de gallo, hot red and mild green sauces, grilled onions and peppers, and creamy guac spiked with chile. 750 Stony Point Road, Santa Rosa, 707-595-3363.